Chinese authorities have barred Dr. Jiang Yanyong from traveling to the U.S. to receive the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences. Dr. Jiang, a retired surgeon in the People's Liberation Army, is being honored for having exposed the cover-up of China's severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak in 2003.
In 2003, in a letter circulated to international news organizations, Dr. Jiang revealed that at least one-hundred people were being treated in Beijing hospitals for SARS. At the time, Chinese medical authorities were asserting that the whole country had only a handful of cases of the disease.
Dr. Jiang's revelation led China's top leaders to acknowledge that they had provided false information about the epidemic. China's public health minister and the mayor of Beijing were fired. SARS ultimately killed eight-hundred people worldwide and Chinese authorities were criticized for failing to provide accurate information that might have saved lives.
Some Chinese and foreign press hailed Dr. Jiang as a hero for bringing out the truth about SARS. He used his new-found influence to urge the Chinese Communist government to admit that it had made a mistake in ordering the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, during which hundreds were injured or killed. Dr. Jiang treated many of the wounded. In 2004, he wrote a letter to China's legislature speaking out against the crackdown, saying it was unnecessary.
Less than a month later, then-Chairman of the Central Military Commission Jiang Zemin ordered Dr. Jiang detained. After his release several months later, Dr. Jiang was allowed to return home but remained under constant surveillance for a few more months. He is not permitted to give interviews to the press.
Human rights activists in China should be free to speak and write the truth. U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said, "No one should suffer for simply expressing their views, for raising concerns about government policies, and for advocating for the redress of grievances."